I like to keep track of what point I think a player crosses the point where he becomes a Hall of Famer regardless of what happens in the rest of his career and I think Pavel Datsyuk has crossed that point. He crosses it by being named captain of the Russian Olympic hockey team as they host the Olympics in Sochi. There was some question about whether or not he would be healthy enough to play in the Olympics but with his NHL game tonight it is clear that he will be there.
Datsyuk is a player who has won several of the lesser NHL awards in the Lady Byng (four times) and Selke (three times). That amount of hardware puts him near a Hall of Fame career. The problem had been that Datsyuk had never won any of the major awards (Hart, Ross, Smythe, Richard...). He had never made First Team All Star. In 2009, he made Second Team All Star and finished third in the Hart Trophy voting. That is his best single season showing and that alone is not enough. His career point totals are growing. He currently has 799 career points. His career totals are not yet on the surefire Hall of Famer level but he has the intangibles that show he is a better player than his point totals suggest. He is an award winning defensive forward (that alone would not make a Hall of Famer - it doesn't for Guy Carbonneau or Jere Lehtonen) and he is a good leader (chosen for the Olympic Team). The sum of these achievements makes him a Hall of Famer regardless of the rest of his career.
One of the things most hockey sabermetrics people agree upon is that PDO is an important number. This number is the sum of the saves percentage and shooting percentage for a player when he is on the ice. Since that number must average 1000 for any NHL player and runs of high or low saves and shooting percentages are largely unsustainable, the league leaders in PDO are influenced positively by luck and the people at the bottom of the league are influenced negatively by luck. This number is not exactly a measurement of luck, but it is often seen that way. The assumption that shooting percentage and saves percentage are not sustainable over the longterm is only partly true. However, since it is measured on the team level (i.e. all players on the ice when a player is on the ice are affected) it is very hard to sustain in any meaningful way.
The current league leader is Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is posting a 1064 PDO. Thus the interpretation is he must be lucky to be doing as well as he is this season. The problem is he isn't really doing that well. He has the lowest points per game of any season in his NHL career. Is he really lucky to have his lowest offensive numbers ever?
I have written many times about how the West Conference has been better that the East Conference for the last several years. In November, things were so bad that the only east team that could have made playoffs if they were in the west was the Boston Bruins. Things have changed to narrow the difference between the divisions. 63 points is a playoff berth in the west and 62 in the east.
If we look at overall records in inter-division play, the West Conference is leading. The East has a 131-169 record with 39 regulation tie points. This is a much closer record than earlier in the season.
This has happened because travel is harder for the West Conference teams. Their conference is spread over three time zones (Pacific, Mountain and Central). The East Conference is fully confined to the Eastern Time Zone.
A quick look atop the saves percentage leaders finds Ben Scrivens leads the NHL with a .935 saves percentage. He is a newcomer to the Edmonton Oilers and has already shown his worth with a 59 save shutout against the San Jose Sharks. This has many around the NHL wondering about how good he is.
Scrivens is relatively unproven in the NHL. He has 32 games played over two seasons before this one began. He put up good numbers in the minor pro leagues - the ECHL and AHL. Many proven NHL goalies have weaker minor pro numbers. The problem is it is hard to make an accurate projection with such a limited sample size.
The biggest naysayer I can find on Scrivens is Steve Simmons who writes:
Ben Scrivens had a game for the ages, is a terrific person to talk to, but don’t get too carried away. I counted 41 goalies on NHL rosters I would rather have than him and that includes Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer
When I looked at the AHL standings last in early January, Manchester, Grand Rapids and Springfield were in the race for the AHL lead. Manchester is pulling away with the lead in the points race. This is because they have played three more games than Grand Rapids and four more games than Springfield. Currently, they have a two point lead on Springfield and three on Grand Rapids. That lead might not be safe when teams catch up in terms of games played.
I thought Manchester's secret weapon would be that Martin Jones was a star goalie in the NHL who would be returned to the AHL. That has changed when Los Angeles (the Manchester affiliate) trading Ben Scrivens to Edmonton and making a spot for him on their NHL roster. Now their chances of staying atop the league do not look as good.
I think Springfield is the team to beat. However they haven't won in their last three games played and that has kept their opponents in the race.
Will Manchester keep their lead or will they get caught? We will have to watch and see.
While it is hard to put too much stock into the meaning of a streak in professional sports, it is hard not to notice them when they happen despite trying circumstances. The San Jose Sharks have won their last six straight games. That is a solid run from a good team. It is all the more impressive because they are missing as many core players to injury as any team in the NHL. Logan Couture, Martin Havlat, Scott Hannan and rookie of the year candidate Tomas Hertl have all been hurt for this streak. Adam Burish and Raffi Torres are also hurt, but they fall below the core player level. I think this is strong evidence that the San Jose Sharks are a very good team. If they can be healthy, they have to be considered a Stanley Cup contender.
Every summer teams feel a lot of pressure to sign free agents. There is a limited class of players available each year and few of the players available are clear gamebreakers. While it can be worth a lot to sign an all star player, they usually are not available. Some of the most heavily pursued free agents usually wind up to be younger free agents who are still in their 20s and have reached unrestricted free agency for the first time. If a player in this group is coming off of a solid season, they usually get pursued by a lot of teams. These players do not have to have ever been proven to be all stars. They merely have to be the best of the younger UFA players.
Last season two such players were David Clarkson and Stephen Weiss. Neither had ever been all stars, but as some of the best younger ufas they were pursued and given some lengthy lucrative contracts. Clarkson is signed with Toronto until 2020 with a $5.25 million salary cap hit. Weiss is signed with Detroit until 2018 with a $4.9 million salary cap hit. These are numbers neither is worth.
It is often hard to assign much meaning to a streak. Any given team is capable of playing a few games very well or very poorly and it rarely has any long term meaning. Nevertheless the Columbus Blue Jackets are the hottest team in the NHL. They are on an eight game winning streak and have moved themselves into a playoff spot.
Can we find any meaningful reasons for why Columbus is playing so well that hold into the longer term? The simplest reason is Sergei Bobrovsky is back from injury and is playing well. He is a big step up from Curtin McElhinney who was manning the nets in his absence. Nathan Horton is also back from injury, although his return dates don't fit as well with the beginning of the streak. Nevertheless he is a key piece of the Blue Jackets offence when he is healthy.
Officially, the Masterton Trophy is given to the player who best combines perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication. In practise, it is usually given to the player who has the best season after overcoming a significant obstacle. Last year's winner was Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild. He is overcoming multiple sclerosis to play in the NHL. The problem is his 2013 season was nothing special. He was limited to five games played in the season. He posted a lacklustre .863 saves percentage and a 3.24 GAA. At times he was unavailable to play because of complications from his MS.
A player can only win the Masterton Trophy once in a career, so Josh Harding cannot win the award again. The problem is he has become a far better candidate this season. He has been one of the best goalies in the NHL this season. Harding is posting a .933 saves percentage and a 1.65 GAA. This is the completion of the story. Harding has overcome MS to be a top goalie in the NHL, as opposed to the bit player who was barely hanging onto an NHL career last year. In an ideal world, Harding could win the Masterton this year and have left it for somebody else (I picked Andrei Markov of Montreal). This year he is a stronger candidate than Manny Malhotra, who I am currently picking, but Harding cannot win this year.
It is many people's conventional wisdom that a poor team's best chance to rebuild is to become as poor a team as possible and try to build through top draft picks. This is the path the Edmonton Oilers have followed. They have picked first overall in the NHL draft three years in a row netting them Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. They have picked up other young talented players in Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz and Sam Gagner. This rebuild has netted them a team in last place in the West Conference. In fact, that same conventional wisdom that lead to the first rebuild would suggest now is the time to trash the team again and rebuild in exactly the same way that has failed them so far.
While it is true that none of the young players the Edmonton Oilers have picked up are on Hall of Fame tracks. They haven't "hit a home run" with any of their first overall picks - at least not yet. It is still quite possible that one or more of them does project to a Hall of Famer in the future. It is also clear that this route to building a winning team has no guarantees. In fact it appears to be no better than any other method - and possible worse than them.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
Why am I blogging? I want to.
Why are you reading it? ???